Koreans have been successful in nesting their educational achievement into places like China and the United States, where they have earned the title of ‘model minority’. This research is a comparison of the manner in which the model minority stereotype is handled by Korean Chinese and Korean Americans. The gathered data leads us to argue that ethnic Koreans in China and the US construct a multi‐faceted meaning in reaction to the ‘model minority’ stereotype. The meaning complicates the model minority stereotype through capitalising upon a shared East Asian sense of cultural superiority to other ethnic groups while strongly emphasising its economic marginalisation and limitations. This results in valuing education as a practical means for achieving economic upward mobility or sustaining ethnic culture and identity that is perceived as being unique to Koreans in the two different sociopolitical contexts. Copyright © 2010 Taylor & Francis.